I love those moments when young kids suddenly realize they can read something – like the Exit sign over the door, their name on a birthday card, the word “zoo” on the billboard out the car window. These sight words read in context are their first steps into reading confidently, into recognizing words that are meaningful and useful to them.
Context is an important part of learning to decode new words and recognize familiar ones. External motivation – call it “reward” if you like – is also important to early learners. Many kids are not motivated to work on reading skills just because Mommy or Daddy says it’s important to learn to read. They need a GOOD reason – like being able to tell which bathroom is for boys, or if they should push or pull the door. Another great motivator is being able to play a fun game!
My very favorite game for young readers (and a crowd pleaser if I ever saw one) is The Cat in the Hat: I Can DO That! Game by Wonder Forge games. The game comes with a “Trick-A-Ma-Stick” (a bendy foam stick like a mini pool noodle that is held in a hurdle-shape with 2 plastic stands), several props easily recognizable to Cat in the Hat readers, and a deck of cards. The cards are divided into 3 piles by color. Each player draws a red, yellow, and blue card and puts them in order to form a challenge, like “Hop around the Trick-a-ma-stick/ With the toy boat/ Under your chin.” The player can then switch out one card or say “I can DO that!” and complete the challenge.
The best part for young readers? Each card has both words and a simple illustration that allow them to quickly decode the words. Soon even the youngest kids are confidently reading words like “over,” “under,” “around,” as well as “hat,” “arm” and “knee.” The challenges are easy enough for kids to do, and hilarious when parents join in, too. Each player keeps the cards from challenges they complete successfully. In the end, you count the stars on your cards and the player with the most stars wins.
This game transitions nicely into reading Dr. Seuss books together with your kids. For an extra learning boost, have the kids pick a few cards from the game and find matching words (dress, fish bowl, etc.) in the text.
The Melissa and Doug Puppy Pursuit Game is, like so many games and toys by this manufacturer, very well-made, durable and adorable. It comes with 6 stuffed puppies with name tags, 60 paw print cards, and instructions for 10 varied games. 5-8 year olds will be able to practice their reading skills while reading clues that lead them to hidden puppies all over the house.
Younger kids will need a grown-up or big kid to help them read some of the clues – but will learn a lot about sequencing and problem-solving during the hunt! 3-5 year olds can practice important memory, patterning and color-recognition skills with other variations of the game. When game-time is over, the kiddos will not want to stop cuddling the cute puppies. This is a great buy for families with kids ranging in age from 2-10, or for day cares and preschools, because of its flexibility.
When playtime is through, keep the learning going with great little kid books about puppies like: How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills, Spot Goes to the Farm (and the entire Spot series) by Eric Hill, Big Dog…Little Dog by P.D. Eastman, Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, and the classic The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lawrey
For a game that more directly emphasizes literacy skills for 3-6 year-olds, try the Super Why ABC Letter Game. This game is based on the popular pre-school program on PBS and uses characters that will be familiar to viewers. Like most board games, players at the lower end of the recommended age range will need some help with this one – but they will learn a lot as they play with older siblings, friends or grown-ups.
This game has a more traditional set-up of board, spinner, and cards. Each stack of cards challenges the player to either match upper and lower case letters (Alpha Pig), name the initial letter of the pictured item (Princess Pea), match rhyming words (Wonder Red), or locate a word based on a picture (Super Why). You can quickly complete a round of the game in 15 minutes, or just use the cards without the board to review basic concepts.
Great books to reinforce concepts practiced in the Super Why game include I Spy Little Letters by Jean Marzolo and Walter Wick (illus.), Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Prelutsky and Marc Brown (illus.), and Dr. Seuss’ ABC.
To make sight word practice more fun for reluctant pre-K and Kindergarten students, try Zingo Sight Words by Think Fun. Easy enough for kids to play alone, but flexible enough for 6 players, this Bingo-style game adds color, context and competition to the kind of after-school sight word practice that can be so boring for reluctant readers.
Great books to support this level of learning are the Bob books (Set 3: Word Families, Sight Words: Kindergarten or Sight Words: First Grade) that come in a bright and handy little box. Each book in a set introduces a new word or word family on the front page, and the simple illustrations and very brief stories allow kids to master them quickly. Each one builds on the last for great review of previously learned words.
Please let me know which games your family loves to play to build reading skills! If there’s enough interest, next week’s post will feature games for older kids that require them to stretch their reading muscles, too.